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Collecting a Family Law Money Judgement

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Were you successful in obtaining a family law judgement against your former spouse or domestic partner? If he or she has failed to pay you what they owe, you’re probably wondering if the court can help you collect the money. After all, the court is the one that issued the judgement. Unfortunately, the court cannot help you. You have to collect the money yourself.

“When can I start collecting the money?” You can begin collecting the money from the judgement as long as the following are true: 1) the judgment was entered by the court, and 2) there isn’t any kind of a “stay” due to a bankruptcy case, an appeal or another legal action. The term “stay” refers to a postponement or suspension on the judgement.

What Can I Do to Collect?

As long as your situation is eligible for collection, you can start taking the following steps:

  • Give your former spouse (or domestic partner) the preferred address where you would like him or her to send your payments.
  • Evaluate your payment options: You can agree to accept regular payments, such as bi-weekly or monthly payments, or you can agree to accept less than the whole judgement. If you agree to accept less than what the debtor owes you, be aware that you are waiving your right to collect the remainder of the balance.
  • If your former spouse or domestic partner fails to pay you by the date ordered by the court, send him or her a letter with a copy of the court order and inform them that if they do not pay the debt, you will take more serious steps.
  • If your former spouse refuses to pay you, it’s going to be complicated and difficult. Do yourself a favor and talk to an attorney.

Only Use Legal Methods to Collect

As tempting as it may be, refrain from using non-traditional or even illegal methods for collecting the money that your former spouse or domestic partner owes you. According to the California Courts, “The person who owes you money (your former spouse/partner – the debtor) may be protected from abusive or unfair ways to collect the debt.”

While attempting to collect the debt, do NOT do the following:

  • Lie to collect your ex’s debt,
  • Threaten to harm your ex if they don’t pay up,
  • Prevent your ex from seeing your children until they pay you,
  • Use misleading statements to collect the debt,
  • Harass your former spouse or domestic partner,
  • Ask another person to harass your former spouse or domestic partner,
  • Tell your ex’s employer about the debt or tell others about it (unless you have earnings withholding order issued by the court),
  • Post on social media, such as Facebook about your ex’s debt,
  • Contact your ex before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. about the debt or at a time and place that is inappropriate.

Can I Get My Ex to Pay Voluntarily?

It is possible that you’ll be able to get your former spouse or domestic partner to pay you voluntarily, such as by writing a letter, helping the debtor find ways to pay the judgement, being more flexible about payment terms, or accepting installment payments.

Write a Letter: You can begin by writing a letter to your former spouse or partner and explaining how it’s in their best interests if they pay the judgement sooner rather than later. In your letter, you can explain that if they do not pay the judgement, you can ask for a wage garnishment against him or her and possibly against their new spouse or domestic partner. You can also tell them that you can ask for a levy against their bank account, and a lien on their real or personal property; for example, on their home or land.

Help the Debtor Find a Solution: Sometimes, a debtor wants to pay the judgement but they just don’t have the money laying around to pay it. If that’s the case, you can help your former spouse or partner find the money to pay off the judgement. You can encourage him or her to use an income asset refund, take out a personal loan, have a garage sale, sell personal items on Craigslist, eBay or Facebook Marketplace, borrow against their 401(k), or get a cash advance from a credit card.

Be Flexible About Payment Options: Perhaps all your ex needs is a little flexibility on your part. If you feel that taking payments is better than waiting indefinitely, you can agree to accept the money owed in installments. If you’re willing to consider this option, send the debtor a letter explaining how they can pay the judgement in installments. In the letter, include the payment, as well as any applicable interests and costs.

What If My Former Spouse Refuses to Pay?

Unfortunately, this happens frequently. Someone will take their former spouse or partner to court and they will obtain a judgement against him or her, but the debtor will refuse to pay, or they will claim that they cannot afford to pay what they owe. If you have tried to resolve your problem in an amicable way and the debtor has failed to pay the judgement, you can contact an attorney to help you. This is the best solution.

Fortunately, there are many legal steps that can be taken to help you obtain the court-ordered amount that is owed to you, such as a wage garnishment or a bank levy. To learn more about collecting a family law money judgement, contact Claery & Hammond, LLP to speak with a Los Angeles divorce lawyer for free.


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